By Olalekan Bilesanmi
In this interview, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, for Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, explains the latest attempts by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to midwife a freer and better electoral process in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. He speaks about some of the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act and the positive impact they would have on the process. The burning issue of restructuring is also discussed, with Igini, giving insight into why it is imperative that the issue is treated with utmost urgency. Excerpts:
You were reported to have said that the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act would impact on the 2019 and future electoral outcomes. Could you give insight to these provisions?
I have no doubt that some of these proposed new amendments would impact profoundly on the electoral outcomes if fully implemented by us. For example, in the proposed new amendments, there are now sections that allow all Political Party Agents to verify all documents to be used for an election in writing and if necessary by video recording, the amendment further invalidates any election conducted without following this provision and further prescribes imprisonment of one year or a million naira (N1,000,000.00) fine for any electoral official who fails to comply with it. This amendment like several others to my mind shows that the legislators have taken into account some of the observed challenges of 2015 elections when there were reports of absence of original copies of form EC8A at polling units and now the law is aimed at ensuring accountability of such critical electoral documents thus making future elections more transparent but as we have always known, the devil is in the implementation and enforcement.
The Card Reader that people like you advocated for in the 2015 election was not given legal recognition by the courts. What is the legal status of the card reader now as 2019 gets closer?
Again that is another important and commendable lesson learned with improvement by the legislators, they have not only gone ahead to legitimize the card reader, but have empowered INEC as the Election mangers to also be able to freely adapt to newer technologies by indicating that a presiding officer may use “a Smart Card Reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission from time to time for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate” . This is brilliant and elegant policy drafting. It conforms to the reality of the hierarchy of policies, Political policy gives the vision, namely acceptable elections, Executive policy prescribes the enabling process and rules-the Electoral Act, they both should leave technical details such as technology which can change with speed beyond the decision-making adaptability of legislatures or other such minutiae of operational details to departmental policies which is what an INEC board is meant to do through its ICT and operation departments that should be accorded legal validity by virtue of sections 73, 153 of the Act and 160 of the Constitution but unfortunately the courts failed to do so with respect to matters of the 2015 elections. Now the Card Readers’ usage has been fully secured in the proposed Act.
Apart from accreditation process and polling units result that appears to be secured, there have been persistent allegation of alteration of results either on the way to or at collation centers. Does the proposed amendment address this very important aspect?
Legitimacy is key to exercise of power because the basis of every system of authority and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey by the governed is based on the belief that those exercising authority derive it from the consent of the people and it is on that basis that they are lent prestige.
So anything that will enhance the legitimacy of the election process is good for those declared as winners through a better electoral process, hence some of these issues have been taken into consideration in the new amendments that provide multiple points for verification, that requires the Presiding officers to not only count and announce the result at the polling unit before the stakeholders, including journalist and observers, who are now allowed to record this entire process possibly electronically, the result must also be recorded in the prescribed INEC documents before these stakeholders, and the results transmitted electronically not only to the collation center for the election but also to a central INEC database for the particular election. Any breach of any of the above will attract a jail term of not less than 5years without option of fine.
To make it clear, Journalist or other Nigerians and election observers must now be allowed to record the whole process of election result recording and collation or any election official preventing them from doing so can be jailed for not less than 5years, section 63 (6) of the amended Electoral Act states so. Although some people have expressed reservations with the ability of our telecommunication architecture to support the electronic transmission of results from all the places in this country where there are polling units, it is sufficient to note that whatever process the Electoral Commission adopts, it would have been tested and subjected to scrutiny by the public including digital recording by stakeholders.
Are there provisions to deal with problems of political Party Primaries arising from absence of internal party democracy?
This is another area where amendments were also made to try to intervene in the chaos that often characterizes Political Party nominations due to arbitrariness by Party bigwigs and Party officials. Now a time frame of about 120days or about 4months to an election has been given to provide certainty of delegates to a primaries except where over 50 percent of such a list are no longer party members or there is proof of death of these delegates, then a 10 day window prior to the election is the maximum allowable, but only for the latter reasons as contained in S.87 subsections 11, 12 and 14(5).
Where Election Managers collude with parties to falsify such nominations as prescribed by law, they may be jailed for at least 5years without option of fine. I personally applaud these amendents given the sad electoral history of Party Primaries outcomes that have proven to be one of the weakest links in our elections, I believe much more attention needs to be paid to the issue of internal party demoncracy that usually triggers crisis in these parties before election and drag on in courts after election. We have suggested at different platforms that the matter of selecting party delegates for an election, although it should be left to the parties, must however be subjected to two legal requirements, one is that the Party rule regarding nominations must be submitted in several copies to INEC with sworn court affidavits signed by the Chairman and Secretary, any amendments to it must not be made 6 months before any election, such amendments made before that time to the copies at INEC must have the Party Resolution where such amendment was made submitted with a Court affidavit. Where a party selects candidates, the minutes of the meeting, convention or delegates conference must be provided with a sworn court affidavit supported by an attendance list and signature of officers that formed a quorum. Providing such legal teeth around the selection of party delegates will not eliminate all problems, but it will empower party members in making their choice of preferred candidates, and whatever parties do will at least conform to some rules that are not very opaque.
Would the proposed provisions of the bill promote speedy determination and doing substantive electoral justice by Tribunals?
Yes some new amendments in Sections 140 made distinction between irregularities by a party in the qualification of its candidates from irregularities of a general election. So if a party candidate fails, state resources will not be wasted on a new election but rather the contestant or party with the next highest vote would be returned as the winner, this will promote diligence on the part of parties knowing that their tardiness or refusal to settle within can have external political cost. Also in Section 142 the Act has been amended to ensure that the determination of election petitions is based on the merit and not on mere technicalities about form and not substance.
Let us take the burning national Issue of “Restructuring”, that you were reported to have said is a development argument and not a break-up of Nigeria – as some people claim. Can you elaborate please?
I think that from the outset we should be clear that restructuring is not about the break-up of Nigeria as some have tried to insinuate to obstruct or make a win-win, sane development conversation, a difficult one. Look, If after over a hundred years of almagation and 57 years of independence, we are still shamefully grappling with the intricacies of even how to live together and have completely undermined our progress, common sense dictates that we should tell ourselves inconvenient truths no matter how far we have gone on the wrong route, as well as, why we fared better in development terms in the First Republic before the military intervention derailed us from the path of steady growth and development, under a political arrangement that our key liberating fathers bequeated to us.
There is urgent need to get ourselves out of the structural gridlock that the military put Nigeria, by restructuring our political economy in order to unlock the potentials that abound in this country, in a way that would make the 36 states centers of production, generation of wealth and job creation instead of being idle and unproductive centers of monthly collection of rents from Abuja, that is itself the chief rent collector that took over the wealth of the states and dwells only in collecting rent from only one out of the 68 items in the Exclusive list.
This is unlike the United States where the central government controls only 18 items and all other activities that generate wealth from which taxes are paid to the centre are left for the 50 states, which is why it is the foremost of the great nations today. The current debate on restructuring should be seen mainly from a development point of view and the consequent benefits to Nigeria.
Looking back at the history of development, it was the practice to measure the development of countries from how much economic growth a country generated hence, for those who are familiar with economic literature, you will recall that people like Adam Smith, David Ricardo and others, talked about nations generating wealth and, concerned, principally, with trade balances and levels of gross production.
But over time it became clear that this big picture did not fully tell the whole story of the wellbeing of everyone in the nation, hence a nation can earn so much, like Nigeria, from oil rent collection yet be filled with people who are struggling daily to eke a living, whereas a few or several people in that nation are accumulating humungous wealth as is the case with Nigeria tragically. This reality caused others to take a closer look at the object of development, first some re-classified the wealth of the nation on the basis of the spread of the wealth, then the notion of disparities, inequalities or unequal gradients in wealth of societies, others looked at what enhanced or reduced these inequalities.
So restructuring is about Nigerian development and not a break-up?
Precisely, its essentially about Nigeria development and how to stimulate economic activities to improve the wellbeing of Nigerians. It is about making every part of the country involved in productive economic activities and generate wealth that would enhance the welfare of our people.
We are not a country called Nigeria just to conduct elections, elect people, sell petroleum and collect Value Added Tax so that we can move from year to year boasting about a few billionaires, no, we are supposed to be a nation because we agree that working together, life and wellbeing can be better for all of us in this geographic space called Nigeria, if collectively we agree to do things in such a way that our nation can earn better per capita income, provide better life expectancy and other measures of national wellbeing for all of us. Our founding fathers after some initial squabbles accepted that the best way to do that so that we can all cooperate and collaborate is through a federal system, but because of the usual challenges of nation building by our fore fathers, the 1966 military misadventure derailed this country and since then and after 50 years of subversion of the framework that made the First Republic the golden era of development we have not been able to recover. It is abundantly clear that the path the military chose, based on the empirical evidence of outcomes was wrong compared to what our founding fathers agreed.
But some people argue that an efective Presidency that controls decision making effectively can provide needed solutions to these concerns in which case leadership ineffectiveness is the problem, are they wrong?
That is a very pedestrain unitary mentality of command and control totally antithentical to democratic principles. Structure determines function and effectiveness and the inconvenient truth is that the political and economic structure of Nigeria altered since 1966 has had debilitaing effect on our orientation and thinking which is the reason why nothing fundamentally would occur in development except we get out of this gridlock that makes supposed centres of wealth generation mere appendages of rent collector-in-chief which is the government at the centre. Yes, of course you will always need a leader to steer all collective endevours properly, but look at it like this, If you are going to America by sea from Lagos, and you put 50 men and a good leader in a wooden boat and you also put another 50 men in a modern ship with an average leader, which party do you think will likely get to America safely? Scholars of leadership have all agreed that context is very important to the effectiveness of leadership because leadership is about contextual effectiveness to influence or direct people towards collective goals, that is why a religious leader may not be a good sports leader, and neither of these too may be useful in leading a battalion out of an ambush. Restructuring is about the context of regimes which enables our economic and political development, let me flesh the bone of that statement with examples, no matter how good the intentions of our leaders currently, you cannot power our industrial and other needs by the amount of power generated by Federal endevour. If the economic and political regimes are devolved so that states individually or in geopolitical collectives could license investors to generate and distribute power according to their needs, and re-sell the excess to federal strategic development needs as is the case in some countries what will be lost from our federal system? Nothing. Instead, we will gain more centers of development and more economic activities for useful engagement of our people.
So essentially it is about devolving more responsibilities to the peripheral governments for developmental goals?
Yes, and I like to use the example of power generation, mining, rails and roads as examples because these are the big enablers of development. I am often worried when I hear the plethora of things people blame the federal government of failures to do and understandably so because it assumed for itself those responsibilities without evidence of capacity and from what we know of a true federal governance, many of these things should be local endevours, where the federal government should intervene, it should be to make it easier for the local such as the facilitation of the loans Lagos state needed to construct the Orile-Badagry rail and road project. Do we realize the enormous potentials that project will unleash in terms of local and regional trade, the opening up of real estate potentials on both sides of that corridor and the vast roll-on effects? Imagine that Rivers and Abia states were embarking on something similar, or Delta and Anambra through Onitsha and further into the country to as far as Kogi, Kano and beyond? Can you imagine the speed of turnaround and revenue for states in the rail sector if sates licensed the big private transporters to run rail coaches within and across geopolitical zones and both parties paid Federal rent for the regulation of these transactions and the regulation of intrastate rail infrastructure?
In the midst of these calls for restructuring, Nigeria became 57 years as an independent country, do you have any sense of fulfilment as a Nigerian?
What sense of fulfilment can we really talk about when how to live together has been largely a difficult thing to achieve after 57 years of independence. I will say, Yes and and largely No. Yes because given the history of nations, I am aware that Nation building takes time and great efforts on the part of committed patriots and the challenges we face are part of the challenges of nation-building but we do not need to re-invent the wheel because the acquisition of knowledge is now much easier with modern technology, we can learn better from applying the benefits of the experiences of others who have built nations that the elites go to for holidays, why are we subjecting ourselves to lengthy paralysis of learning processes when all we have to do is gain from best practices in other places. We are taking too long to take-off as a developing nation, and this is mainly because we see what is good but we often choose the wrong path. The quality of our choices leave much to be desired hence we are still crawling when we should be running.The poetry of our country is now framed and conceived in the rubric of pains and frustrations because of the kind of elites we have in the this part of the world.
If leadership as majority of Nigerians agreed is responsible for the failure of the country to fulfil the dreams of independence, how do we solve this through election as an umpire?
Elections are meant to create a level playing field for the people to select leaders they perceive can represent them in making collective decisions in the best interest of their welfare and wellbeing. That is what would happen here in Akwa Ibom state under my watch and so those who seek to contest elective leadership positions should not only offer policy choices but also competencies and character attributes that will serve the goal of the voters to meet their best interests. Leadership is the ability to influence or direct others towards meeting corporate goals, and since selecting people who help actualize the corporate interests of the people is the goal of elections, elections are about selecting people who can best influence policy options for corporate welfare and who have the best character attributes to do so. So the first thing is to determine the goals of our corporate welfare, what are the things that will enhance the corporate or collective welfare of all Nigerians, what are our collective welfare needs, so if you define that very well, then you can easily pick those who can meet these needs and the goals from their policy preferences, capacity and their character attributes, the work of INEC is then to create the fair ambiance for voters to pick such leaders by ensuring that the votes are counted honestly and taken into account in determining who become leaders that would preside over publc affairs.